One month

One month of not running. Of mostly not running. I am in France where I have a beautiful village house (that is, one without a garden but a lot of history and hills out front and back). Here, I get to borrow my friends Cathy and Shaun’s delightful dogs, and although Molly and Maggy are now 13, they still love to walk, and off we go, up and down hills. On one of my favourite walks, around the back of this 11th century chapel in the village, I had a shock: the gorgeous grassy path has been churned up by machines. Trees have been uprooted and tipped by the side of the track; others have been felled. Stone has been quarried. I didn’t know anything about it, as I haven’t been here for months, so it was a shock. “Ça fait mal au coeur,” said Marie-Françoise, who lives here full-time, when I asked her about it. It’s a deal, apparently, that the village has been resisting for years. A private forestry company wants access to get to the trees at the top of the hill, and for reasons I don’t yet understand, the French forestry commission has allowed them to do it. So a path has been dug up somewhat brutally, for profit. Other villagers are sanguine about it and I understand why: jobs and industry are scarcer and scarcer here, which is the village has so few young villagers, because most have left for work. It used to have factories and bars and restaurants and cafes (my house was one of them), and now it has none. The nature will recover, they tell me. And trees must be felled. Still, it was a shock. I walked up the machined mud and thought how brutal we are, us humans, to nature. How we feel such entitlement, always, and how that will be the death of us. Really.

But then I got to the top of the climb, and managed to get over a huge pile of rocks that the road-builders had callously left blocking a public path, and then the path was the path again: green, and quiet, and serene, and luscious. So when I got to the steep, rocky ascent, I was so pleased to be on my favourite path, and for it to look like my favourite path, I ran a bit. On rocks, downhill. It was stupid. But I just wanted to run. It was only for 100 metres, though FRB and another running friend chastised me for it. But I think I have been very strict and very good and very patient, and 100 metres of running in a month is forgivable. And we have had such beautiful walks.

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The dogs though have now gone to Spain for a week, so I am back to my bodyweight workout. I started doing this in the pétanque court in the village, which gave some villagers some entertainment. The court is picturesque, but it’s got far too much dog shit, just like most streets in the village. (But change is on the way, says the mayor. There will be scoops.)



I use the New York Times 7 minute workout, which is a high-intensity body weight routine. It does probably only take 7 minutes, though I rarely have my watch and have never timed it.12well_physed-superJumbo


I’ve modified it to take pressure off my tendon: No jumping jacks or running in place. I do kettlebell swings to get my heart rate up, or if I don’t have a kettlebell handy, fast ab cycles. I never do squats with flat feet any more, but raise them on a ledge or step. That helps. I love the workout because you can do it anywhere, so I’ve been doing it in the pétanque court, and on my friends’ terrace while I cat-sit their Maincoons. I try and do it at least twice a day.

And yesterday I finally got on my bike. I first came to this village in 2007, to write The Big Necessity. I was here for six months, and I wasn’t a runner, so I bought a Giant bike from a man nearby who rents out bikes in the summer. It’s a woman’s straight-handlebar road bike, it’s very light and has never failed me.IMG_6008


I’ve never used it as much as I should here. I feel I should use it more because it’s cycling country. There are signs on all roads telling cars to respect bikes by passing them at 1.5 metre distance, and there is in general a great respect for cyclists. There are far more cyclists down here (in the foothills of the Pyrenees) than runners, and they are almost always in ridiculously branded kit. When I was living here in 2007, I went to the US for some last-minute research and spent ages looking for cycling kit that didn’t say La Poste or some sponsor on it. I found some in a bike shop uptown where Matthew Broderick was also buying a bike.

Every time I come, I intend to cycle for 50km or a Proper Ride, and never do because I love walking so much.

My physio had advised me not to cycle for the first few weeks, and I obeyed. But she gave me dispensation just before I left to have a go to see how it feels, so I did an experiment by cycling 10K to the bakery and back. That was fine. Yesterday I went further and did my favourite 20K loop. It has 1000 feet of ascent, which is not much considering all the hills around here, and it’s stunning. IMG_6009 IMG_6007


I loved that ride, and it seemed fine too, but today I’m not sure. My tendon is not exactly sore, but it’s not asymptomatic either. And it has been so much better. Sometimes I even think I may get to run again soon, though I also dread doing a few miles and that familiar soreness coming back. Posterior tibial tendon issues, from everything I’ve read, are persistent, difficult and a bugger to repair. So much as I’d still love to do that 50K ride, I won’t. Bakery runs, and back to the modified weight workout, until further notice.


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My mother looked at me suspiciously, just after I’d told her I was off running. “You’re taking this surprisingly well,” she said. “I thought you’d be weeping and wailing.” She’s right. I am taking this surprisingly well. I also thought I would be weeping and wailing, not least because I thought I was so dependent on running to keep my brain and moods stable. It’s not that I don’t miss running. I do. I supported my club-mates at the Meanwood Valley Trail race on Saturday, along with FRB, and although I got to borrow our chairman’s lovely Nikon camera and take photographs, I was wandering around before the start wishing I was wearing shorts and about to run seven miles through the woods on a beautiful sunny day. And today is another beautiful sunny day. It’s nearly 19 degrees, and too hot for me to run in, but I’m feeling wistful about a late evening run on the dusk at the end of a hot day. I love cooling twilights after heat. Instead, I went to the physio, to be poked and prodded with total professionalism and considerable pain. I’m not sure which hurt more: my kidney, my QLS (I think; anyway somewhere in my back); my outer ankle, which is extremely tight because it’s been compensating for the inner one, or the other way round; or my inner ankle. Actually, as I’ve just winced in memory of what she did to my inner ankle, that was definitely the most painful. I think I actually bit the pillow.

But it’s all doing me good. I know it is, and I think I am not weeping and wailing because I know it will work, and I will get stronger. Also, in a way, not running has been a revelation. Yoga: I haven’t done yoga for years, since I started running. I’ve done Pilates, but that’s more like gym stuff. I don’t care for spiritual yoga, or chanting Sanskrit in a room in Leeds, which is just daft, but I think yoga is more holistic than Pilates. I’d forgotten how much I like it. So I started Operation Fell Soon with very good intentions and practice, waking up at 6am to get to a 7am yoga class by SweatYogaFit at Northern Monk Brewery. It was fabulous. I really loved Helena’s teaching style, and how she would say, “if you’ve got room [in your body], do this but if you haven’t, it doesn’t matter.” I wasn’t as stiff as I thought (though my physio today actually did an intake of breath at one point, so she would disagree), and at the end I thought, that was actually a good workout. Running has made me a running snob; I disdain cycling, I abandoned yoga and I haven’t been swimming for years.

The class was £6 and afterwards I paid another £4 and had breakfast at Northern Monk, which was great. It was home-made granola with cacao nibs and compote. Plus coffee of course. I may have started doing yoga but I’m not *that* healthy. IMG_5835


Then, I re-discovered swimming. I got slightly obsessed about aqua-running, which someone had mentioned might be a good idea, so I started googling aqua-running belts, then shoes, then looking for classes. Once I’d wasted all that time, and FRB suggested going swimming, I just thought: sod it, I’ll swim instead. And I’ve been saying for years that I was going to go to Bramley Baths, which are not only stunning:


but community-run. It was lunch-time, and I was worried the baths would be busy, but there were just a dozen of us, and plenty of room to swim. And I launched my aqua-running initiative by going to the deep end, out of my depth, and running on the spot. God, it was HARD. I was exhausted after 100 kicks, and I did 5 sets of them. Aqua-running is supposed to be brilliant at maintaining cardio fitness for injured runners, and I can see why. So, Operation Get Fell Soon continues. Next week I may be allowed to cycle, but not yet.

Try a little tendonitis

Injured. INJURED.

I don’t like being injured. Especially when it is a chronic injury that has become acute and probably the best I can hope for is that it just becomes chronic again. If I look back at my four years of running and all the niggles, pains and injuries, I will get despondent. If I add up how much I have spent on physios, massages, biomechanical analyses, shoes, orthotics, podiatrists: I would hang up my running shoes out to dry where they would take on a whole different purpose.

Here’s the boring bit about the injury: Last year, I got an ankle problem. It happened after I ran a Parkrun in some Brooks racing flats, having been running in cushioned shoes. I didn’t spend six months acclimatizing to minimal shoes. Heavens, no. I just ran in flats, on park paths in Leeds that have quite a severe camber, and I’ve been paying for it since. My inner ankle would start to hurt after a few miles, and the inner ankle bone would be extremely sore to touch, as if it had been hit with a hammer. It also hurt when I did squats. I went to a podiatrist who gave me orthotic inserts. I had an MRI done and a few months of physio that was good and involved needles. The soreness went away, and later my hip started to get sore instead.

Then it came back. It came back after I started fell-running. Fell-running is a wonderful activity and I love it beyond measure. But my ankle does not love it, because running up and down fells over all sorts of terrain can make your foot move in all sorts of directions. And my Inov8 shoes, while I love them, are not particularly cushioned either. The ankle problem started to show itself again, in soreness, then more soreness, then, shit: pain. So my marathon training, already stopping and starting because of travel, has now been stopping and starting because of pain. I did what I thought I was supposed to do and massaged Voltarol into it, took anti-inflammatories, iced it. Then I read this, by the doctor who came up with the concept of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Damn.

I phoned my GP. The GP practice has a new system of phone triage. You phone and ask for an appointment and a doctor phones you back to see if you actually need one, in their view. I’m guessing this works better for them, but I used to see a GP who I liked and who was kind and patient, and the three times I’ve gone through this system, I’ve got the impression that the doctor couldn’t get off the phone fast enough. Also the first one prescribed me zopiclone instead of zolpidem sleeping tablets (for flying) and they made me hallucinate Game of Thrones battlements for an hour, then have amnesia for the next hour. Luckily FRB did not run a mile, as most people would have. Anyway. The ankle. The GP looked up my MRI results and said it had shown fluid on a tendon. I said, “which tendon?” She said, “you wouldn’t know it.” I stopped myself saying, “you patronising witch, I would,” and said, “I probably will, because I’m a runner and we are geeks, so which one?” She said it was my posterior tibial, advised RICE (see above) and then said, “bye, then.” I said, “hang on. Might physio help?” “Oh. Yes.”

Most frustrating. Though not as frustrating as not doing any exercise for four days. Today I contacted a private physio practice, I ran for 6 minutes on the treadmill and my ankle didn’t scream, and I did a strength workout. My brain and soul feel better, and I’m going to try a short run tomorrow in cushioned shoes with orthotic inserts. I’m beginning to wonder if I can run the marathon with crutches.

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There is a condition and it is called “hangry.” I know. Hideous word. But it conveys a state of being for which no other word exists: where you are so hungry that you lose all restraint and become furious. It is a state that runners can get in if they don’t respect fuel and nutrition. I read this blog today and thought, 25km on no food? Not even a gel? That is bonkers. Yes, there are theories about running while fasting, but the human body’s glycogen runs out at some point and probably before 25km. Science on that is everywhere but here is a start. For me, I notice the energy depletion – known by Americans but not British people as “bonking” – after about an hour. So in both the marathons I’ve run, I have been regimented: nothing for an hour except some water, then a gel and water every three miles, and the water mixed with energy tabs if I could manage to get one out of my pouch and into the bottle. I’m good at nutrition, right? Except I’m not.

I still can’t get my diet right. I get carbs and proteins mixed up. I find myself thinking, what’s a chickpea? Is wholegrain bread good or bad carbs? I should know better by now but I don’t. Yesterday I was planning to do my club training run in the evening. A steady 7 miles, nothing too taxing as I’m saving my legs for Rombald’s Stride on Saturday. (I realise “saving my legs” is a nonsensical phrase to unsporty people.) I had Weetabix for breakfast, poached eggs on toast at 11, then at 3 thought I’d better eat something and had 2 vegetable samosas. That would be enough, right?


I set off with my club and my legs were heavy. After two miles though I’d forgotten about my legs because I was RAVENOUS. For the next mile I could only think of food. Then my only thoughts were, where is a shop? Where can I get jelly babies? The route took us from Kirkstall into town for two miles, then along the canal a bit, over the ring-road and into Armley. In other words, NO SHOPS. Finally, as we ran up Cockshot Lane, I saw a bright shop front.

Car showroom. Closed.

I saw another business with bright lights. Closed.

I saw another one. Convenience store! Open!

“I’ll catch you up”, I told our run leader. “I need to go to the shop.” He looked shocked. “Oh, OK. We’ll wait for you at the top.” The next minute was a flash: dash into the shop. Dig £2 coin out of my running jacket. Say with desperation “DO YOU HAVE JELLY-BABIES?” to the two lads behind the counter. They hand me a packet, looking a bit surprised. I give them the money, while sweating and probably panting. I take the bag, run out and start running up the road. Three young men who looked a lot like trouble seemed to enjoy the sight of my legs in shorts as I ran past, but I didn’t care. I needed sugar. SUGAR. I ran up the road. It took ten minutes. By the time I’d caught the others up (way before the top, run leader of little faith), I’d eaten half a dozen jelly babies. I felt a lot better. We stopped to regroup and I offered them around and everyone declined. Who the hell needs a jelly baby after three miles of running?

I did. I clutched them for the next four miles as if they were my jewels. My legs felt better and I ran faster. Funny, that. My trainer would be horrified to read this, along with the fact that I was still so hungry afterwards I ate a Chinese takeaway of tofu and black bean sauce, in about two minutes.

I chased that down with another Weetabix. And then, I wasn’t hungry.


Niggles and dogs

My marathon training plan is designed to avoid injury and niggle. But I do have niggles. Here is what’s going on so far:

— A right hip that is sore when sitting or resting
— A right knee that sometimes collapses on a morning when I go downstairs
— A right inner ankle pain/ache that is worse when climbing hills or doing deep squats

Spot the connection. My right side has always been problematic. I started running in 2010, and my first problem was the ankle. I went to my GP, then to a podiatrist. I was told I had “frozen feet” and that some of my smaller foot bones may have fused together. He gave me orthotic inserts, I ran with those, I stayed away from the racing flat shoes that I thought had given me the problem in the first place (along with the camber of Woodhouse Moor), and the pain went away. Then it was my knee. Then it was my hip. I went back to the GP. I had a scan. I was referred to a physio, who said my muscles were extremely tight and did acupuncture to release them. It was surprisingly powerful. He told me there was nothing wrong with my feet, that they flexed normally, and gave me exercises to do which I promised to do and didn’t.

Along the way I did six sessions with Teri of Pure Running in Harrogate. Teri thought, and the physio thought, that my problems were due to not having enough core strength, and having an unstable pelvis that sagged down to the right when I got tired, putting pressure on my ITB, and hip, and knee, and probably ankle. I tried to change my form, I got less and less hip pain while running, so I stopped seeing the physio and I stopped seeing Teri. I got stronger by doing my PT and other strength sessions but I knew that my right side was the danger zone. Last year I saw Tom Hughes of Trimechanics, and we worked on my form again. It’s the same principle: stand taller, get my pelvis over my stride, stop my right foot kicking out, which it does when I’m tired. (My mate Elliot called it my Dick Emery kick.)

Tom gave me exercises, and I did them sometimes but not enough. Meanwhile, I took to the hills. On the hills, my hip is fine. But the ankle pain is back. On the weekend, I was in Scotland, near Edinburgh. I had to do a long run at some point, and I’d looked on the map and seen this magnificent patch of green space. Perfect!

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Then I saw the word “law” a few times. I knew that from going to North Berwick that a law is a hill. Then the words “Pentland Hills.” Then a map with contours. They are high. And I was not going to do my long run while climbing 1,000 feet. So, back to the map. Maybe a road? But they didn’t have pavements, or they were busy or dangerous. We were staying at a country house with 20 or so people, and my Fell-Running Boyfriend (FRB)’s dad, also a runner, looked on the map and saw a dismantled railway line. I looked it up. The Dalkeith-Penicuik walkway. 9 miles long. Perfect.

I went to the website. The Dalkeith-Penicuik walkway is closed between Bonnyrigg and Dalkeith while Borders Railway does renovations. That cut about 4 miles off. Damn. Still, it was the best option. FRB was supposed to be having a rest day, but he decided to come along, so we set off. The railway path ran right in front of the house. We turned left, first, towards Bonnyrigg. The view wasn’t the nicest – Bonnyrigg was a mining town and it’s not been prettified since – but the walkway was flat, although it was tarmac, which I didn’t much like. There were lots of people out with dogs. I’ve never minded dogs while running. I like dogs, and I’ve never had any problem with them. FRB is more circumspect. He thinks dogs should be held or kept on leads on narrow pathways such as the walkway. One dog jumped up at us, and persisted, while his owner, a nice enough woman, kept saying the usual Dog-Owner’s Mantra: “he’s very friendly. He’s only playing.” Yes, but he’s only playing while jumping up at me, and do you know how often runners hear that? We went on, and the walkway did indeed end at the far side of Bonnyrigg, beyond the nicely preserved old station:


And this is how it used to look:

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On we went, and the further we got, the prettier it got. On the right as we ran were the magnificent Pentland Hills, looking steep and stunning.


The path turned to shale and gravel, and was nicer underfoot except for the ice. FRB and I had made different decisions about footwear: I was in my Pure Connects, i.e. minimalist road, and he was in his Inov-8s. Neither was perfect, but both were OK. We ran all the way to Penicuik, through tunnels and along escarpments and a beck, into a housing estate, then turned around and came back.

Then I got bitten by a dog.

We’d seen a surprising number of Alsatians on the route, along with some thug dogs and some nice collies and Yorkies. I can’t remember what this dog was, but I think some sort of Alsatian cross-breed. His owner was a woman. The dog approached FRB first, as he was running ahead, but didn’t do anything. FRB always stops when a dog approaches and waits for the owner to get the dog under control. I stopped too, but the dog came up to me and jumped and bit me. FRB thinks I was clawed, but I remembered its mouth opening and the teeth. It punctured my thigh. Not badly, but the skin was broken. I was shocked. I hadn’t expected it to happen. I don’t think the owner realised it had bitten me, and neither of us told her, though I wish we had. We ran on, and I got angrier and angrier. I was angry not so much at the dog, nor at the owner who couldn’t control it, but that I would now probably be nervous of dogs, when I hadn’t been before. Dog-owners: CONTROL THEM. At least keep a hold of them when runners pass. I love dogs, but even the nicest natured dog can turn. We can never know what a trigger can be: a smell, a colour, a movement. Please hold them. I know that runners coming up behind dogs and people is an issue, and I am trying to perfect the best way of doing this without spooking them. Shouting from afar makes people jump. Saying “excuse me” when getting close makes people jump too. If I cough, I’m not heard, and I can’t depend on them hearing my footfall, because the noise of running feet changes according to weather and terrain. But I’m working on it. I may borrow my cat’s bell collar. She’d be glad to be rid of it.

There were no more incidents, and after four miles I’d calmed down. We did 14.5 miles, which was enough in icy conditions, and got back to the house to find the wood-burning stove going, and eggs and morning rolls (excellent Scottish baps) ready to be gobbled.

The next day FRB and his dad wanted to run up the Pentlands. And so did I. I dressed for height and hill, as well as an actual temperature of about zero which would feel like five degrees colder with wind-chill. I put on capris, knee-length socks, a vest, fleece-lined running top and a jacket. With, of course, hat and gloves. We parked at the foot of one of the laws and set off. No warm up: that’s for jessies. The path was ice and snow. We all had Inov-8s on, and except for the sheet icy bits, the Inov-8s were great.

The first ascent was steep. Near its end, FRB’s dad said to me: That’s the toughest bit done. And I believed him. Now I know that father and son are adept at not telling the truth about how many hills there are, and I will never believe either of them again. There were two or three more climbs. But actually the lie helped, because each climb was a surprise, and I just got on with it. Another thing that helped me: that FRB told me the day before he thought I could be a good fell-runner. He said I had strong legs and could be a good hill-climber. I remembered this, as my legs started screaming on yet another climb, and I kept going. Praise is a powerful thing.

Some of my climb was walking. Probably a lot of it was walking. My ankle began to get sore, and then it went from a faint ache to a loud ache and then to actual pain. But I kept going. And it wore off on the downhills.

We got to the first top and it was so very beautiful but so very very cold and windy. FRB’s dad was in shorts and two T-shirt layers. He was colder than either of us, so we kept going after taking some very fast pictures.


I realise now that this how my fell-running brain works:
On the up: “I can’t do this, I never want to do this again, it hurts.”
At the top and on the downhills: “I love this, I can’t imagine never wanting to do this, I want to do it again.”

We encountered half a dozen other runners, some of whom gazed at FRB’s dad’s shorts with some wonder, as he was the skimpiest dressed of all. It’s the Carnethy Five, a classic hill race, next week, and I guess they were doing recces. We dashed downhill through snow and got to the reservoirs. Then it was two or three miles along tarmac to the car park, which was fun in fell-shoes. The sun was out, and it was beautiful.



Now, I just have to figure out how to do a 23-mile moors race this weekend without my ankle complaining too much. Along with the rest of my constitution.



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My moods have been low recently. I don’t know why but I suspect it’s do with my hormone levels, which are perturbed and unbalanced by endometriosis. At least, that’s my guess, from reading about how overloaded oestrogen (which endometriosis is probably a result of) can depress dopamine and happy hormones. I’m trying all sorts to heal them: taking magnesium, taking a horrid but I think effective potion that a herbalist prescribes (which is supposed to balance my oestrogen), using my Lumie alarm clock to wake up more gently and give me some Vitamin D. But the fail-safe method is running. Endorphins versus oestrogen. Yesterday I had my usual personal training session at 7.30am, and the good mood lasted until the afternoon. Today although it’s my club training night, I thought it was safer to start the day with a run and coast on the endorphins for the rest of the day, hopefully. My cat woke me at 5, my alarm woke me at 7, and I got up at 8. The blinds were drawn, but I could hear a howling wind. But I looked outside and it wasn’t raining, and the trees were still upright, and I needed to run, so I fed the cat, got dressed, packed a small rucksack with a change of clothes (but did not wrap everything in a plastic bag, which will be relevant), and set off.

It wasn’t cold. It was light. It seemed OK. Everyone I saw walking their dogs had hoods up, and clearly they had read the weather forecast because after half a mile, by the time I got to end of Gledhow woods, and up the steep hill into Little Switzerland, the rain began. It was gentle at first, though cold. But I was warm, and had stripped off my top in the woods so I was only wearing my light running jacket. I kept running, and the rain got harder, and the wind got up. I’d planned a 7 mile run that included a run around Roundhay Lake then down into the city centre to my studio. But I got to Roundhay Park and up to the top of the hill that leads down to the lake, and I swore. There was a fierce headwind, and the rain was coming sideways, and it was biting. I hadn’t had any food, and my legs were leaden. I could either run 2 miles home again, or 3 miles into town. I told myself that I’d tolerate this weather on a fell, and I would, but it was vile, so I cut out the lake, and headed into town. I imagine that a hundred or so commuters into Leeds this morning thought me a lunatic, and I was beginning to agree with them, as I got colder and wetter, and my legs got heavier. Down Roundhay Road, along Harehills Lane, which I usually avoid because so many young predatory men seem to be hanging around. This time there was hardly anybody on the streets because they all had more sense. I ran, and I trudged and I ran, and I didn’t enjoy it, but I kept going, past Jimmy’s hospital, down into Burmantofts, and to my studio. I got to the front door just as the postman arrived, and we looked at each other. I said, “that was horrible.” He said, “yes. I was going to go out on my bike but changed my mind.”

Do I regret it? No. Not entirely. I was soaking wet and chilled to the bone. I am writing this in a heated studio, while wearing a cashmere jumper, down puffer jacket and wrapped in a cashmere shawl and after an hour or so, I’ve just about warmed up. My clothes did stay dry, just about. My pace was pathetic, and I ran 4.5 miles instead of 7. But I got out of the house, and I went running in a rainy gale, and I’m proud of that.



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From Monaco to the moors

I travel to odd places frequently to research odd things and am known for it. But last week’s travel to an odd place for an odd thing was actually not really my doing. One of my mother’s friends, John, who lives in Australia, is on the board of the World Circus Federation. He has been fascinated with circuses since I’ve known him, as has the rest of his family. I visited them when I was 18 and remember his stepdaughter had a juggler for a boyfriend even back then. When my mother was visiting them in Australia this year, and John said, why don’t you come to the World Circus Festival in Monaco? and my mother said, “er…” and ten minutes later he had booked the hotel, that was that. My mother asked me to go and who would refuse to go to the circus?

I packed my suitcase for all eventualities: warm clothes for a Big Top, glamorous clothes in case we had to drink with Grimaldis (Princess Stephanie is the director of the festival), and of course running kit. We stayed overnight first in Manchester, and though I had no time to run in the morning, I still salute Crowne Plaza for this:


I looked as usual on walk jog run and such for good routes, and as usual they were little use as they have no elevation. Once our plane pilot had decided not to land in the stunning blue Mediterranean, as it seemed like she was going to, and once we had got through the airport, past the machine-gun-carrying French soldiers who were ostentatiously standing around looking threatening, although their rather bonkers berets gave a different impression, and once we had paid €20 for a short bus trip from Nice to Monaco, and once we had left Nice and I saw the height of the cliffs and the narrowness of the roads and the beauty of the dramatic coast, but also the limited flat land to run on: after all that, I thought, I’m not running up these cliffs. We got to our hotel, checked into our room, a lovely spacious one with a view of superyachts in the harbour (that was only the beginning), and settled in.


The circus show wasn’t until the next night, so the following morning at 7.30, I took the map that the hotel receptionist had given me, left the hotel, turned right and just kept going. This is what I was running on:


I ran all the way along, up into Cap d’Ail, down some steep steps into a cove which was the end of the path. It wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t t-shirt weather either, so I paddled, then ran back. Along the way I saw women in fancy kit doing very little exercise with very tiny dogs. I saw some runners, none of whom returned my greeting or smile. I saw a woman – I swear this is true – doing a morning walk in white designer jeans and a fur cape. I laughed and ran on. It was only about 4 miles in the end, not nearly long enough according to my training plan, but I don’t have the discipline to get to the end of a route and turn and run back, so I didn’t. Instead, I went for a chilly swim in the bay near the hotel, in my running kit, then walked past dripping. I ate a mountain of eggs for breakfast, then persuaded my mother to come all the way back on the walk with me. Which she did.

The circus was that evening. It was clearly a huge Monte Carlo event. I’ve never seen so much fur or Botox in one place. Prince Albert and Princess Stephanie were both there; not only is she director of the Festival, but she once ran away with an elephant trainer before marrying an acrobat. I think it’s safe to say she likes circuses. So do I. It was exciting to walk into the big top – le chapiteau, in French – past a brass band of clowns.


Not before I had a balanced and nutritious meal though. Now I know that a toffee apple in French is une pomme d’amour.


Some of the circus acts were extraordinary. The athletic ability and strength of some performers was dazzling. At one point, a two-man act were 30 feet up hanging only on ribbons, and one of them was holding both their body weights only on his wrist. The trapezists on both nights were amazing.

But I hated to see the animal acts. I hated, hated, hated it. I do not understand why we must watch elephants standing on stools, or lions sitting on a trailer on the back of a motorbike. I don’t understand why this is presented as a form of human achievement. I couldn’t walk out, as we had been invited there as guests of my mother’s friends, but I sat in my seat seething. The use of wild animals has been banned in many countries, though not in mine, and I wish it were. Of course people who support the use of wild animal acts go on about the wonderful bond between the animal trainers and their captives. But they also talked in one newspaper article about the “parc” which the elephants had to roam around in while they waited. I saw that parc. It was a tiny yard near Monaco’s heliport. Disgraceful.

The following night, there was a fancy cocktail party in the hotel lobby, and Prince Albert was meant to attend. I decided to go a do a strength session in the tiny shabby gym instead. I finished just as the party was in full swing, and there was no access to the lifts except through the lobby, so I walked through the hotel entrance in my gym vest and shorts, and every head turned, and the crowd parted for me as if it was the Red Sea.

Ah, Monaco. Absurd tax-dodging toy-town in a beautiful landscape. Despite the ocean and the view, I won’t be hurrying back.


I was glad to come home. And I was glad that the next day I was going to be running for four miles over Yorkshire moorland. It was the perfect antidote to the ugly wealth and Botox brigades of Monte Carlo. I’d been meant to run the Four Villages Half in Helsby, in Cheshire. But after a long trip home from Monte Carlo via Munich, then a three hour drive, I wasn’t going to get in a car for another few hours just to run a half. And it was a good decision, as the half marathon was cancelled because of ice. Instead, I chose to do the Stanbury Splash, a Woodentops race up at Haworth. But the Splash became the Stoop, another Woodentops route (and the same as Auld Lang Syne), because the rivers were too frozen. I was given a lift in a 4×4, so we could park up on the tops. The snow was plentiful and then it started snowing again. So base layer and vest, but I still ran in shorts. I was nervous again, as I’m still not too sure about my fell running technique. Also I’d forgotten my watch, but my expert fell-running boyfriend lent me his, as he knows the route – and any route – backwards. I wish I had his astonishing ability to photographically recall routes even if he’s just driven or run or walked them once. But I don’t.

So, we registered, we got our three mini Soreens (malt loaf is what the race is famous for). I queued for the only toilet (the portaloos hadn’t made it up the icy road). I found my fellow Harriers, we did a team photo:


then, because fell running is not like road running, we all sang happy birthday to someone, and we were off.


I didn’t learn my lesson. I set off too far back, and I got stuck behind walkers, a lot. It was a lovely run, and the moors were beautiful, but I wish I could have run more. Because there was so much snow, it was extremely difficult to know what was on either side of the path, so it was hard to overtake. At one point, a woman in front of me, walking very slowly, was taking her jacket off and adjusting all her kit. If you’re going to do that, and there’s a huge gap in front of you, and a long line behind you, then surely you step aside?

But I’m still learning fell etiquette. What I do know is that I need to have more confidence. The finish was on a hill back up to the car-park, and I overtook two or three people and still felt at ease. I shouldn’t have felt at ease; I should have been busting a gut. So, room for improvement.

The next week, I actually did all the runs I was supposed to, though I sneaked in a cross country at the Northern cross-country championships. It was 5 miles around Pontefract racecourse, a nice flat course on grass, except the Senior Women ran after 5 or so junior races, and the juniors had nicely churned up the course for us. Also, it was fast. I was hungover and not in the best form, having stupidly had curry the night before, so I just stuck to my team-mate Marion. I mean, I really stuck to her. I was on her shoulder. She must have found me very annoying, but I knew she was going to be going at the right pace, and I didn’t have the energy to overtake her and stay in front of her. Sorry, Marion. She tolerated this until the last half mile then kicked and off she went. She finished five places ahead of me. I still managed to overtake someone near the line, so I’m pleased. Not bad with a hangover. Then the next day I got up and ran 14 miles from Bingley to Leeds. Back to the canal.


And on the next day, I rested. Really.

INJURIES/NIGGLES: Sore toes; black toe-nails; slightly aching right ankle

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I have thirteen weeks or so to go before the Manchester marathon. That came as a bit of a shock when Jenny handed me my plan. I’m not worried. I think I’m half-marathon fit (I hope so, as I’m doing one the week after next), but even so, the thought that Marathon Training is back is odd. One of my New Year resolutions is to dance more, but the other is to learn the difference between “could” and “should”. Marathon training has a lot of “shoulds.” But they are shoulds and not coulds because I want to do what I want to do, which is run a marathon in 3:50. I can do it, as long as I train and as long as I don’t get injured. Oddly, for the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that I’m running naturally on my forefoot/midfoot much more. I’ve no idea why. My shoes are quite minimalist, but I am not actively trying to run forefoot. Anyway my feet like it but my calves don’t.

So, last night, after I’d been on deadline all day, I thought: I’ll have a dark city streets run. I haven’t done that for a while. It seems that these days I mostly run in company. But I do like evening winter runs on streets, as long as I get choose the right streets (not Harrogate Road, for example). Pavements are obligatory. At 6pm, as I told myself it was now or never, as the wind was starting to get up, I got my kit on and got myself out of the door. I put my housekey in my jacket pocket, and set off. I had a route planned, up Harrogate Road (the bit with pavements and civilization) to the Alwoodley Lane junction, then right along Wigton Lane, back down Shadwell Lane and back home. A nice 7 mile loop, as my plan required. I enjoyed it. I like running past people who are walking home, and wondering what they’re thinking. I like running past the huge posh houses on Wigton Lane and wondering what on earth possessed them to build something so expensive yet so banal and with quite so many ugly columns. I wonder at whether the families inside these big houses are happy, or whether the husband has seen his mistress at lunch-time, or the wife has got close to her massage therapist or colleague (horrible and presumptuous of me, but Wigton Lane does seem a stay-at-home mother kind of lane). Those imaginings keep me going for a couple of miles, until the end of the lane. Then right-turn past the pub and the convenience shop, and I got to the junction where I knew I had to take Shadwell Lane. So I did.

Now there is a curious thing about Leeds. I grew up 9 miles away in Dewsbury. I have lived here now for nearly six years. But I still don’t think I know it well. I know bits of it. I know bits I live in, and bits I work in and bits I run through. But there are villages and parts of it that, unless I’ve had cause to go there, I know not at all. I ran along Shadwell Lane, thinking, this is great, I get to know Shadwell Lane, which is a road I’ve only taken about once, and that was in a car. I carried on, past fields, and more fields, then some cottages, then a pub, then a bus terminus (as in the bus got there, turned around in a turning circle and then set off again), then to the other end of the village. At this point, after running for two miles down the lane, I thought, I should have reached the ring-road by now. Suddenly my vague running brain thoughts – such as “I didn’t realise there were so many fields so near the city centre” and “it looks very rural round here, or it would if it weren’t pitch dark” and “oh I’d better run on the side of the road with houses on rather than dark fields and footpaths except there’s no pavement on that side” – all came together to the shocking realisation that I was going the wrong way.

I was going in completely the opposite direction.

I know that my geographical and spatial orientation and understanding is very poor. My brain just doesn’t retain it. There are people who can immediately tell me that we are facing a north-east direction, but I am not one of them. (I’ve just bought Tristan Gooley’s book “A Walker’s guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs” to try to improve.) But standing at the far edge of Shadwell Lane, peering at a road sign that said Wetherby in one direction and the A58 to Leeds in another, in darkness, with no-one around, I thought:

1. Why on earth didn’t I bring my phone?
2. Why on earth didn’t I bring any money?

I know why. I’m out of the habit of solo running and just forgot. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I had a few choices: I could run down the A58 to Leeds, but being geographically and navigationally challenged, I couldn’t remember where that would take me.

Did I mention that by now it was 7pm and I had an important meeting with someone (ie actually a work meeting) in Chapel Allerton at 8pm?

I thought: I can ask someone where I am. But there was no-one about. So I did the only thing possible: I set off back in the same direction. This is never fun for a runner, especially when you have carefully planned a loop in your head. Never mind. I ran up to the bus stop, saw that the bus only came to Shadwell and turned back to Leeds, and that it set off in the direction I’d come from. So there was only one thing to do, and that was add a four mile detour to my six mile run, put my head down and just bloody run.

I just bloody ran. My calves were yelling at me. I was warm, then cold. I was extremely thirsty because I’d drunk only one glass of water all day (another resolution: HYDRATE MORE), and I was trying desperately to get home in time to shower and have some food before the 8pm meeting. So as I ran back, this time the right way down Shadwell Lane, my thoughts were:

1. How quickly can I make spaghetti?
2. How quickly can I eat spaghetti?
3. But I’m trying to cut out processed food, is there anything else I can eat apart from spaghetti?
4. Sod that. How quickly can I make spaghetti?

I ran, and I ran, and I ran. I got home at 7.45pm. I ate Weetabix. I didn’t wash. I went to my meeting, an important one, and I yawned all the way through it. Today, my head and my legs are tired, and although there is a should on my plan, it’s turned into a “could,” because tomorrow is the West Yorkshire cross country championships, and my legs will get battered enough.

At least I know where Shadwell is now.


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DISTANCE: 10.55 miles (I meant to do 7)
TIME: Quite a bloody while

Chest, rest

I fell ill. It began in Stockholm. I had a sore throat and a dry, tickling cough. I remember thinking, oh no, no, no. Not this week. Not with the Great North Run on Sunday. On the last run I did, I had to stop and cough a lot, but I was hoping that it didn’t get worse. By “worse,” I mean that it didn’t go down into my chest. The runner’s rule: anything above the neck, you can probably run. Anything below it, don’t. Or, chest equals rest.

On the Friday before the Great North Run on Sunday, I felt OK. I decided to do Parkrun on Saturday as I’d missed a run and wanted to work my legs. I cycled over to Roundhay with my running club-mate Andrew, and I set off with no intentions of being fast. In fact I was a minute faster than I have been for a while, which when you’re running for under half-an-hour, is more significant than it sounds. I don’t do Parkruns very often. I love them, I really do, but I’ve just had other running priorities. And much as I love their inclusiveness and encouragement of all runners of any ability, I do find the wearing of 50 and 100 t-shirts and Parkrun-totting-up to be a bit odd. Or at least, not something I must aspire to, as I’ve only done 11 in three years and I don’t think there’s a t-shirt for that.

After the run, as we gathered at the bandstand, I began to cough. Oh dear. And it was a different cough. This was not tickly and in my throat, but sending stuff up from my lungs. My cough had become what chemists and manufacturers of cough syrup call “productive.” I got home, delivered a marrow to the allotment association show, then lay on my bed and worried. I felt unwell, but how unwell? Was I bad enough not to run? But I had raised sponsorship for the run for WaterAid. I was supposed to be running with my mate Elliot. He was expecting me in Newcastle. I packed my things and set off up north. First though, I called at the designer outlet in York which I stupidly thought was on the way, as I always forget that to get to York from the A1 you have to go sideways. At the outlet, I felt worse and worse. My head began to pound. I was coughing. I phoned Elliot and he said, are you sure you want to run? I wasn’t. I set off in the car, intending to drive to Newcastle and then if necessary, cheer people on if I was too unwell. But then realised I had to take the road heading towards Leeds to get back on the A1 to got north, and it was raining, and I felt crap, and I just kept driving until I got home. I phoned Elliot, I went to bed, and I was sick for a week. I watched the Great North Run on TV, and thought Mo Farah’s victory was pretty suspicious, when it seemed clear that Kigen could have even only slightly kicked and trounced Mo. But I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to run. That’s how I knew I was ill. The thought of running even a mile horrified me.

That’s not like me.

I was unwell for a week. I went through bottles of cough syrup and packets of paracetamol. I couldn’t talk on the phone without collapsing into coughing. But after a few days, I began to feel better. Then I knew I was really better when I wanted to run again. Jenny, my trainer, suggested doing a couple of six mile runs on the weekend. But I was still coughing, and it was still in my lungs. I consulted my running mates, because I didn’t know what else to do. I’d done enough Dr. Google research to know that if I went to my GP, she’d tell me to start worrying when the cough had lasted for more than three weeks. I didn’t have three weeks to spare: the Yorkshire marathon is 26 days away, and my training has already been worryingly hit and miss. I remember at this point in my London marathon training I felt knackered but fit. I was  leaner and stronger than I feel now. My club-mates mostly advised caution, except for Laura, who said, do a half hour hilly bike ride and if you feel crap, don’t run. She admitted that probably wasn’t scientific. And Adam, who said he didn’t believe in the below/above the neck thing and if I ran without putting up my heart rate, it might be alright.

But I didn’t. I went to my allotment instead and madly gardened. The fresh air did me good. And on Monday evening I ran. And I loved it. Oh, I loved it. Not necessarily because I was running, but because I was exercising. Afterwards I felt like this:


That feeling continued even into this morning’s training session with Jenny. I usually start clock-watching halfway through. I admit I did look at the clock when she started me on atomic press-ups early on, and I realised how quickly I’d lost strength in my arms. But last night I ran easily and happily. I felt good. Now I just have to work out how to do a marathon.


I went to France for August. I ran a lot. I ran in the heat, on the flat, up hills in the rain. I did 16 miles along a converted rail track, la voie verte, that runs from my house to the very beautiful city of Mirepoix, which I have visited so often, usually with visitors, that I have no pictures of it. I did though take a picture of the railway track.


Then I came home, and confronted a strange fact. My marathon training has somewhat gone wrong. My personal trainer Jenny is great for keeping my core strength up and my consumption of meringues with double cream down, though not entirely. When I did the London marathon this year, I followed her plan to the letter. I was at first nervous and then scared stiff of running the longest I’d ever run, and so I wanted all the help I could get. It worked. I had a great day on the marathon, and so I signed up for another one. Also, I did London in 4:07, which I was happy with (or so I tell people), but actually I was aiming for under 4. So, back to the marathon drawing board. I entered Yorkshire Marathon in October, and thought, this will be so much easier. No wet winter runs in the dark. Lots of beautiful summer training runs around Eccup and Harewood at 6am, with swallows fluttering beautifully around my head as I trip along at an 8 minute mile pace.

That was the plan. Jenny first drew up a new marathon plan about three months ago. It had several phases: anaerobic conditioning first, then aerobic conditioning to get my speed up and then the long runs and more conventional marathon training started at 16 weeks away. It was such a beautiful, carefully thought-out plan. I know how long I’m supposed to run, and when, and at what pace. Those of you who are more relaxed about marathons will be wincing at that, but I found it useful. In theory. Because it turns out I’ve been rubbish at following it. As Andrew Kirby said, it’s like when you make a cake or something: the first time you take real care, and the second time it’s more slapdash. I’ve been slapdash. And I’ve been complacent. So instead of doing the paces, I’ve done what I felt like. I haven’t got all the mileage in, leading to Jenny saying things like “you’ve missed 25 miles last week,” although I’d done 20. Jenny is not a sociable runner – or at least, sociability while running isn’t important to her – and she is very disciplined. But I think sociable running is essential, and I’ve made that clear again and again by entering race and after race, even when they don’t remotely fit with my training plan that week. I can’t resist a Yorkshire Vets or a PECO or an Otley 10, even though they don’t fit in my training plan, and I haven’t resisted them. 14 mile training run on the plan? Oh, I think I’ll do Eccup 10 instead. A hard interval session? But a Golden Acre Vets race sounds so much more fun!

So every week I have felt guilty for not following the plan, but every week I continue to do things like enter a sprint triathlon and run 5K, swim 400m and cycle 21K rather than do a 12 mile long run. Of course it doesn’t really help that I’ve been travelling so much but that’s no real excuse, particularly when it’s to places where jetlag gets me up early and you end up lying in bed wide awake at 4am counting down the time until you can go running. And I haven’t been as bad it sounds: I have been disciplined enough to keep running while travelling, so I’ve done runs around a lake in Dallas, Texas with the lovely Lake Grapevine Runners and Walkers:


along the river around Stockholm:


and up 16% gradient hills in Cornwall.


I did actually do three weeks of the six weeks of interval speed training that I was supposed to, and I loved it, and I got faster. I did do my 16 mile runs, although as one of them was in the company of Andrew “where is it on the map” Kirby, it ended up being four hours via the very beautiful Timble fell.


But now I’m nervous. Suddenly 26.2 miles seems like a very long way. So I followed the Leeds Country Way Leg 3 last week (even though it has HILLS, Marion and I came 5th out of 21 teams) with an extra 6 miles along the lovely roads of Tong. That was hard. This weekend I was supposed to do the Great North Run, and I was going to do an extra 5 miles beforehand. But instead I’ve picked up a chest infection and cough. The rule of running is that if it stays above the neck you can run. I was in Stockholm last week, and all week I had a sore throat and tickly cough and was begging it to stay above the neck. I did Roundhay Parkrun on Saturday morning to give my legs a try out and though I did it pretty fast for me, I paid for it. I immediately started with what doctors call a “productive cough,” i.e. sounding like I’m coughing up 25 years of 40-a-day cigarettes. (I’ve never smoked.) I set off for Newcastle on Saturday hoping that the drugs would work, but somewhere near York I felt horrible and turned round and came back. I’m so disappointed that I couldn’t run, but I also feel so unwell I can’t face the thought of even running a mile. I have no idea what this means for my marathon training but it can’t be good.